The benefits of new technology are not being fully felt at colleges across the country, prompting former Barnsley college principal and Toshiba education adviser Bob Harrison to question whether a government aim to bring all classrooms up to the digital age is achievable.

The annual Association of Colleges (AoC) technology survey last month paints an unsurprisingly gloomy picture and reinforces what Martin Bean, vice chancellor of the Open University, described at the 2009 Association of Learning Technology conference as the “growing crisis of relevance” in colleges.

This, two years after the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency closed, the Harnessing Technology strategy, and the dumping of ring-fenced funding by the incoming government.

Yet there has been plenty of money channelled through agencies that could have been used to address the issues of staff skills and strategic leadership.

Questions must be asked of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) , the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) about the lack of progress given the level of investments. Who is accountable for setting and achieving targets? Or is this a fundamental vulnerability of a sector-led system?

The survey executive summary says: “The ability of colleges to implement the education policy agenda, and deliver the required policy outcomes, relies not simply on investment in technology infrastructure and systems, but also on the ability to manage the deployment of that technology in ways that best meets the specific requirements of the individual college.”

It goes on to identify points that have been common knowledge to those with experience and expertise in implementing technology strategies in other education sectors. Namely, “its not about the technology, it’s about new ways of thinking”.

More than a year ago, I attempted to raise the issue in my Wanted Pioneers piece, which seemed to fall upon deaf ears at BIS and LSIS.

It is no surprise therefore the survey exposes how colleges are failing to make effective use of technology, with a debilitating effect on their ability to achieve policy goals.

Specifically, it suggests colleges need to improve the relevance and structure of staff training in the use of technology across the curriculum. Further improvements are needed, it says, by way of a whole college approach to strategic planning in the use of technology, representation on senior management team for the development of technology strategy, efficient purchasing that takes into account collaborative initiatives such as shared services and migration of some services to cloud technologies.

Technology resourcing as a core function of college processes needs to be looked at, too, along with specific funding for e-learning development.

The survey goes on to suggest areas in which technology is perceived to be least effective are widening participation, reducing digital exclusion, engaging students with disabilities and learning difficulties, and improving retention and achievement.

Meanwhile, the aim of the government is to “ensure a clear sector-owned policy to support outstanding teaching and learning including making the full use of the potential of technology”.

If the AoC survey is any indication of the reality in colleges then it looks like the government’s aim is not being achieved despite the enormous resources given to JISC, regional support centres and LSIS to achieve just that. To their credit AoC joined forces with ALT earlier this year in organising the well-attended conference entitled Large Scale Curriculum Redesign Using Technology, which drew on the experience of colleges trying to meet this digital challenge.

I wonder what the FE minister Matthew Hancock makes of all this?

Will he be bothered? He should be.



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3 Comments

  1. Bob,

    My view is that the (technology) crisis of relevance in education is about the education system itself – about institutionalisation, standardisation and control.

    Until learning (and learning technology) can be decoupled from the education system then we will always have this problem and it will get worse in my view until something breaks.

    I already see and hear of plenty of cases where students prefer to use their own relevant (and better) technology rather than that supplied by the institution.

    Education and technology – doing the Monster Mash
    http://martinking.wordpress.com/2010/09/18/education-and-technology-doing-the-monster-mash/

    Education must de-institutionalise technology (and learning for that matter)
    http://martinking.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/education-how-to-look-good-naked/

    • Thanks Martin, I agree with you but why should we wait until “something breaks”?

      Surely it is the job of leaders to anticipate the future challenges and plan for them?

      Sadly I can see no vision from BIS or LSIS and very few Governors and Principals and SMT’s actually understand the issue?

  2. Lesley Price

    This week, the Learning and Performance Institute (LPI), whose mission is to raise the standard and value of workplace learning, launched a Capability Map that defines 27 skills each having 4 levels of competency relevant to workplace learning professionals. http://www.learningandperformanceinstitute.com/capabilitymap.htm The framework is broad and includes learning across the board, not just the use of technology. I wonder how many staff development people who work in Colleges will self assess their own skills and competencies…or how many FE lecturers will look at it and think mmmm as a learning professional, do I have these skills?

    The LPI is keen to work with FE to improve workplace learning and have made BIS aware of what we are doing. FE have an important role to play in upskilling UK plc but they need to realise that in order to do that they need to make sure that those involved in staff development have the right skills for the job and that those involved in delivery – from those who are leading to those who are at the front line also have the right skills. LPI have submitted evidence to the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning and we are also now working with the 157 Group.

    Personally, I worked in FE for a long time and I would far rather somebody somewhere grasped the nettle, took the bull by the horns and did something about it…as my worry is, if the system breaks, we will be letting down the learner and ultimately that means that its UK plc that will suffer.